Whether it was the heat or time of day, at first there didn't seem to be too much excitement for Democrat presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker in Norman.
The Community Block Party on White Street in Campus Corner Thursday evening, organized by College Democrats of Oklahoma, looked less than half full when the New Jersey senator emerged from Volare, where he was holding a fundraiser. But when Booker spoke, the crowd listened and it multiplied.
"If I'm elected president, I'm going to ask more from you than has ever been asked of you before," Booker said. "I'm not going to ask you to pay more in taxes ... and I'm certainly not going to ask you to put up with more embarrassment. I'm going to ask you to serve more, to give more, to act more. Because our country only changes if we do. We need to revive democracy and the only way to to that is to get back to the power of the people, to engage and to act."
On his way to the stage, Booker walked down the sidewalk where attendees were taking refuge from the sun, taking selfies and shaking hands. He stuck around for more selfies afterward, and came away with a brand new "Booker #46" Sooner football jersey.
But in between, he enthralled the crowd with his address that covered racial injustice, socio-economic justice, prison reform and healthcare.
"We have to deal with the fact that we are the richest nation in the world, yet people are dying because they can't afford their prescriptions," Booker said. "We have to deal with the fact that our national anthem says we are the home of the brave, and yet the bravest among us, our soldiers, come home from battle and many wind up homeless. The fact that we are the land of the free, and yet we have an incarceration rate that is disproportionate to every other developed nation."
The pauses in Booker's speech told everything: no one made a sound. Attendees hung on every word, save for a few breaks when applause broke out.
Booker painted a nation plagued by division, and while he rarely called him by name, it was clear he lays the blame for that at the feet of President Donald Trump. But he rejected the idea that the 2020 election is only about beating Trump for Democrats.
"Beating Trump is just the floor, but it's not the ceiling," Booker said. "We're looking to make real progress in our communities. And that's going to take something larger than a partisan election."
His speech included a personal touch when talking about how his parents faced racism and discrimination while looking for the New Jersey house he would grow up in and the white couple who helped them get past it. Booker spoke about his mother helping to organize the March on Washington, and he referred to portions of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.
He also talked about what stands now in Memphis at the place where King was shot 51 years ago. Booker said at that spot, there are words referring to the Bible verse Genesis 37:19-20, in which Joseph's envious brothers look at him and say, "Here cometh the dreamer ... let us slay him and throw him into the pit, and we will see what will become of the dream?"
"The challenge of our generation is to answer that question," Booker said. "What will become of that dream?"
In similar fashion to candidate Beto O'Rourke's visit earlier in the month, Mayor Breea Clark introduced Booker to the crowd.
"I want residents to be engaged," Clark said. "Opportunities like this are so important for democracy."
Oklahoma City-based hip-hop artist Jabee played for the crowd ahead of Booker's speech, while singer-songwriter Lincka performed afterwards. Activists also passed around a petition to try and get State Question 802, which would ask residents to vote on Medicaid expansion, on the ballot in Oklahoma.
There was a minor confrontation between a man claiming to be a Trump supporter and a member of the crowd. The man could be faintly heard as Booker spoke, but it did not seem to break the senator's rhythm.